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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

So wait? There was a writer's strike? Why doesn't anyone tell me these things?

A long time ago, my parents tried to instill in me the importance of balancing a checkbook. You see, you put in the amount you have in the bank, here. Now, anytime you write a check or use your debit card, you mark it here, and write down the difference on this line. That way you'll always know how much you have available. Subsequently, I bounced three checks. Of course, the punchline to this is a part of an old email forward asking why a bank would charge you money for insufficient funds when you don't have enough to cover the original check, anyways? Needless to say, I never caught onto the whole balancing my checkbook idea. In fact, I decided to just not pay attention to it and just pay attention to my bank statement and life was much sweeter. I never bounced another check, ever.

With the advent of the ability to use the internet to manage my expenses, I've freed up a lot of time, saved on checks, and hardly have any reason to use stamps. See, all my bills, ranging from utilities to credit cards are managed online. Most of my expenses are set to automatically debit my account on a certain day, just like my paycheck is automatically deposited into my checking account every other Friday. It's a wonderful setup. Every month, I get an email update that my account will draft a payment to the Cable Company or Gas Company and I just make sure I always have enough to cover everything until payday. I no longer have to worry about writing checks or balancing books because I always keep an eye on my bank statements and constantly check my account online to see what is available and what is going in or out.

I have adopted the same sort of logic with my television viewing habits. It used to be that I had two VCRs in house at all times and a revolving slew of 6 hour tapes being recorded and erased at a frequency that was more than my attempts at an extended absence greeting for my voicemail. I rotated tapes once a day and kept a system by which the tape on the top of the pile was ready to watch and must be done by the end of the week. You see, you put that tape here which is what you have available to watch. Now, anytime you decide to watch something you back up and only record that much space as get the point, right? By the way, who killed Laura Palmer?

I realized that the Digital Age was catching up to my viewing habits and the fact that I needed to smoke a fat joint to be in sync with the constant speeding up and slowing down of my degrading VHS tapes was not something I wanted to invest money into on a regular basis. I opted to buy a DVD recorder because I didn't want to pay a monthly fee to TiVo. However, I would have been able to make the payments automatic. So, I spent almost $200 on a DVD recorder and a few rewritable discs. Everything seemed to be working fine, but some programs never recorded because of copyright issues and others were cutoff because there's some new trend with having shows go over a couple minutes from their regularly scheduled time. By the way, what was in that Hatch on LOST?

Then a breath of hope came my way in the guise of my cable provider. I could bundle my phone, internet, and cable into one package and get a dual channel DVR. Ooooh, yummy. Soon, I was using VHS tapes to balance my entertainment center while I zipped through commercials and paused live broadcasts. I kept my queue to about 20% full and regularly watched my favorite shows. Last season (2006-2007) in particular offered a lot of new shows which I would give a passing glance, possibly setting for RECORD ALL EPISODES. If I didn't really care for them, delete the show, delete the scheduled recording. Gotta love it. But then I started to notice that a lot of my newly scheduled to record shows began getting cancelled. Smith, gone. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, gone. Yet, American Idol and Wife Swap, and all manner of reality television trucked along at a steady pace. Soon, I became disgusted by the lack of quality shows on television and used my DVR and Cable box to seek out shows on cable channels that I always wanted to watch......oh look, Spaced is on BBC1. Must see television became must see by the end of the week.....or maybe next. I was so disgusted with the networks and producers that I wanted to go to my window and do my best Peter Finch impersonation. Unfortunately, I have glass block windows in my family room and very small windows that open only about three inches.

Once the season ended an amazing event happened during the summer. I had a daughter. Soon, my television remote gathered dust and I didn't get to watch my shows. It wasn't that I didn't have time. I can always juggle a remote with a bottle and burp cloth. It's not hard to learn. It's just that we kept mostly to one floor of my house with the newborn and I didn't have the DVR attached to that floor's television set. When the fall season rolled around, I already had built up a good 50% queue that I swore I would during 2 hour naps and before she awoke in the morning. By December, I had close to 80% and saw no end in sight. I began to whittle down what I could, but my wife threw up a dastardly roadblock.

"What are you watching, dear?"

"Las Vegas, honey."

"Oh, I like that show. Hold off and we'll watch it together."


And just like that my DVR nearly exploded. I couldn't get to shows that I watched alone fast enough and began fast forwarding through the Crime Lab musical montages on CSI: New York just so I could get all the dialogue and get rid of the episode.4 or 5 weeks of episodes began to pile up. I tried to think of ingenious ways to trap my wife in the room while I stated to watch a show she liked, drawing her into the drama onscreen and allowing me to delete the episode.

"Oh the baby's crying."

"No, that's on the television, our baby's fine."


As of February, I had all aired episodes of some show called Moonlight still queued up, unwatched. I had planned on watching one episode, declaring the show dumb (I liked it better when it was called Angel), and removing it from my recording schedule. Unfortunately, my wife wanted to watch it as well and the shows piled up in my queue and started to stagnate. We managed to catch an episode one night at someone else's house and both agreed it was dumb. I deleted all the episodes and my DVR sighed in relief as if it had undid it's belt after Thanksgiving dinner.

I also noticed something else. My DVR queue was going down and I wasn't watching nearly enough of my shows to affect it in such a way. New shows weren't being recorded. I checked the recording schedule and there were no shows slated to record. What had happened? Did I miss the apocalypse? Were brain hungry zombies wandering around my yard and I didn't notice them? DID THE GODDAMN NETWORK CANCEL ALL MY SHOWS? None of the above, although there is some weirdo wandering around my yard in a bathrobe. I think he may be looking for his newspaper, though. Can't be too careful. BANG!

Apparently, there had been a writer's strike and all of this season's shows depleted their completed scripts and reality television took over in the absence. How the hell did I miss this? I'm usually up to date on these newsworthy items......oh that's right, the baby. I delegated new technology in the form of my DVR to pick up the slack. See, while I had continued to record the shows I liked, I just kept an eye on my queue and didn't notice whether or not they had been adding new shows. As long as I never went over my DVR space, I knew I could watch them whenever. Since I had become so disenchanted with television, anyway, I failed to pay attention to what was happening. I simply started living in my life. I was actually, happy that the strike took place because it gave me some breathing room in my life to allow things to happen in a more relaxed manner. The funny thing about the strike and unions for that matter is that even though about a half of the shows and movies out there were worth watching, when the WGA went on strike, even the piss poor writers got to picket for more money. I think the strike should have been performance based. Granted, these are only my opinions. Still, why should some hack that writes crap for a show that somehow stays on the air get the same residuals as a good writer who has to go through three or four cancelled shows or pilots that were never picked up because the networks and producers go with the lowest common denominator in terms of talent?

Now that the strike is over, and everyone is back at work, I will have to start watching all those shows, because apparently it ended in time to churn out more episodes this season for all my shows, currently in my DVR queue. Now, if only I could get my wife to look at the television.

"Look, Honey. Sawyer has his shirt off." I would say hitting pause.

While I wait for her to close her mouth and settle on the couch for the next 2 hours, I think I'll check my bank account.

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